This is the 8th and final post in a Step-by-Step Guide to Planning Perfect Family Trip. Click here to start back at Step 1.
We made it! It’s the final step of our guide to planning the perfect family trip!
Planning the perfect vacation is tough work, but it’s all for naught unless you actually get out there and go! So this week, for the final step, we’re going to dive a little deeper into a few ways you can save big when booking your next trip. Because I know nothing motivates me more to “just go” than a good deal!
There’s a reason we’ve been all talk and no action so far when it comes to booking things. What if you book your flights only to find out that 5 days is just not enough to see everything you want to see? Or what if you find out that flights are ridiculously expensive for the week you want to travel, but you’ve already locked in that perfect Airbnb?
There are just too many variables when it comes to travel planning, and pulling the trigger without having the full picture could cause you some headaches (and unexpected overspending) in the long run. That’s why I like to explore all options and have a solid plan in place for every aspect of a trip before we put any money on the table.
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So now that we are at that point, let’s talk about a few ways you can save when booking your next family trip.
The Keys to Affordable Travel: Flexibility & Patience
There’s not really that much science behind scoring great travel deals, but I would argue that a lot of it comes down to two main keys: flexibility and patience.
Be Flexible // While easier said than done, having flexible travel dates (or destinations) will allow you to take advantage of lowest airfares and rental/hotel costs available. For example, on heavy business-travel routes, you’ll find that airfares spike on Monday and Friday, while leisure destinations usually spike on Friday and Sundays. Consider taking an extra vacation day to leave or return mid-week to help you save when less people are traveling and prices are down. Likewise, hotels and private rentals nearly always charge more on Fridays and Saturdays, so even being able to swap one of these days for a weeknight could mean considerate savings.
Travel During the Shoulder Season // We love to travel during the shoulder seasons (that in-between period between low and high season) because the weather is usually fantastic, cities are less crowded, and travel costs are still quite affordable as compared to summer. For most destinations, the shoulder season falls during spring and fall (though this varies around the world – Travel & Leisure has a great list of shoulder seasons destinations here).
Check for Local Events // Travel during the off- or shoulder season is great, unless you miss that big music festival going on! You definitely don’t want to plan a trip during a notoriously expensive time to visit, so check this world events calendar, which lists not only major holidays in various countries, but also sporting events and festivals that will undoubtedly affect prices and availability. I wish I’d remembered to check it before booking our trip to Rome over Easter. Whoops!
Mix and Match Your Search // This can take some practice and can be quite time consuming, but has done marvels to help us save on airfare. Instead of searching one multi-city trip on a search like Expedia, break it up by searching different one-way ticket options. Mix and match premium airlines for long-hauls with budget airlines for short trips, or tickets you can use airline points on with other cheaper ones that you can’t. There’s no rule that says you have to book all of your travel in one place, and more often than not, you’ll get a better deal if you book the cheapest option for each leg of the trip separately.
Be Patient // Last but not least, be patient. Don’t jump at the first ticket you see…you’ll want to watch and wait. Of all the trips we’ve taken in the past 2 years, we find that there is a sweet spot for ticket prices tends to be around 2-3 months prior to departure (a little longer for international, peak season travel). So go ahead, get an idea of costs early, but don’t get too trigger happy until you’re sure prices won’t be going down int he future. (PS. that thing about booking the travel during the week also tends to prove accurate for us a lot too.)
Tools for Saving on Flights
Alright, so now you know a little about how to save on travel, but what about where to find good deals? These are of a few of my favorites:
Skyscanner // Quite possibly the most user-friendly and helpful search tool out there, Skyscanner makes searching for airfares with flexibility in mind so much easier. Gone are the days of having to look up every possible flight pattern for every possible day individually. I could do an entire post about all the benefits of using Skyscanner (?hmm, I sense a new post coming!) but a few of my favorite features include searching from your home to “everywhere” (showing you the cheapest places to fly to during a given time period), the “whole month” search option (which lets you find the cheapest dates of a certain month to fly to and from a city), and the “cheapest month” search option (showing you what time of year will be the cheapest time to travel to your desired destination).
Fareness // While not quite as intuitive as Skyscanner, Fareness makes searching for the absolute cheapest round-trip airfares super simple. Just pick where you want to go, for how many days, and during which months, and it will give you the cheapest option. Or, if you don’t really care about exactly where you’ll go, you can do a more generic search like “beach” or “Europe”.
Southwest Airlines // If you’ve done any sort of travel research, then you know that Southwest’s airfares aren’t included on aggregate travel search websites (like Expedia or Skyscanner). If flying domestically, Southwest is a definite must for an extra search. Like Skyscanner, they’ll allow you to do a monthly view of fares so you can see which days are the cheapest to travel on. And even more of a bonus, Southwest doesn’t charge any cancellation or change fees if you change your mind. This means you can guarantee yourself you’ll always get the best deal from them. Simply book your ticket and if you find the price get lower later, you can cancel the original ticket and rebook at the lower price (keeping a little credit on the side for our next trip, of course).
Airfare Watchdog // Airfare Watchdog operates similar to Skyscanner to find the best travel deals, but a nother great feature I take advantage of is their deal alerts on social media. This is where that flexibility and patience comes in handy again. If a killer deal pops up on a flight from New York to London, and you already know that’s where you want to go, you can hop on it quick and snag a great deal before it’s gone. Just today, Norwegian Air was offering $65 one-way flights to Europe! Deals like that done come around (or stick around) often, and I’d probably never know about them if it wasn’t for sites like these. One other way Airfare Watchdog can be an asset for you: set up email price alerts on a specific search or great deals from your home city.
The Points Guy // Once you get into the travel rewards hacking game, TPG is a great resource for not only great travel deals, but also teaching you how to mix and match rewards points to get cheap or nearly free flights and hotel stays.
Read Next: 8 Simple Ways to Fly for Free!
Tools for Saving on Accommodations
Trivago // We don’t stay in a lot of hotels right now because they aren’t the easiest for us traveling as a family. But on the few occasions that we do, using an aggregate search tool like Trivago can help make sure you are getting the best price by searching all travel websites at once.
Priceline // It’s been a while since we’ve tried this one, but we have scored good deals on last minute hotels using the “Name Your Own Price” tool. I’m a bit too particular about choosing exactly where I’ll be staying (when you name your own price, your bid goes out to all hotels with your specified star rating and area), but if you truly don’t care, it’s worth a shot!
Book Directly through Hotel // Do people actually book directly with hotels anymore? Sure they do! And you’re more likely to get a better deal if you do too! Not only might you get a better rate than what a hotel search engine finds you (since they won’t have to pay extra booking fees to the middle man), but you might also be able to get a better room for the money simply by asking.
Airbnb // You know we love our Airbnbs. But because there’s only one of each rental, it can be a little stressful in making sure you book before someone else does. Being flexible, but also swift in making a decision is key. I like to keep a few options saved, just in case our first option doesn’t work out.
That said, make sure to always check the cancellation policy before booking with Airbnb (each home will have a different policy). Most Airbnbs will allow you to cancel penalty-free up to 30 days before arrival. Now, I would by no means go about booking places you’re unsure about (it will reflect poorly on your rental history, damaging your reputation which is so important on the community home-sharing site), but if you’re pretty sure about something, it’ll give you a little added push to go for it all while knowing you’re not 100% out if things fall through.
VRBO // Like Airbnb, VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) is a great site for finding private rentals, especially for things like mountain cabins or beach houses. Rental contracts and payments are done outside the website, which means you’re more likely to be able to negotiate on price and terms if you’re traveling during the off-season or for a long stay.
Other Ways to Save
Rental Cars // If you’re needing a rental car, there’s really no benefit of “waiting” to book it. Prices rarely decrease if booking early, and even if they do, you can always cancel and rebook at the lower price. On the flip side, waiting until the last minute won’t necessarily drive the price up either, but you could find yourself having to upgrade to a higher class than you wanted because of unavailability at the lower price points.
Tip: If you have a travel rewards credit card like the Chase Sapphire, booking your rental car through their travel portal will not only get you a better rate, but bonus points as well!
Activities // Check to see if any of the attractions you plan to visit offer a discount for purchasing in advance, or if there are any combination tickets that can help you see multiple sights for discount. The city visitor bureau’s website is another great place to check for deals on local attractions. And when all else fails, Free Tours by Foot offer some pretty great city tours for, you guessed it, FREE!
Alright my friends, get out there and start booking (and saving)!
Missed a step? Check out the full step-by-step guide:
Step 3 // How to Start Saving NOW for Travel
Step 5 // How to Use Google Maps to Plan Your Trip
Step 7 // How to Build a Travel Budget
Step 8 // 15+ Ways to Save Big When Booking Travel